DUNEDIN — The mystery of the Dunedin tombstone has been solved.
Earlier this month, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the Dunedin Historical Society was investigating whether a headstone found in the back yard of a foreclosed home on Union Street was a relic of the city's famous pioneering Moore family, and whether the yard might contain graves.
Turns out there are no bodies. There are no local connections. But there's a story with a whole lot of twists and turns.
The marker belonged to Robert Hoff, the last person to own the Union Street home. It was a keepsake from the family cemetery in his native New Jersey, but space and financial constraints prevented him from taking the marble stone, estimated to weigh several hundred pounds, with him when he moved, officials said.
"It is not any relation to our Moore family," historical society executive director Vinnie Luisi said. "It's just a coincidence."
The unlikely lead detective on the case? Dunedin City Commissioner Julie Ward Bujalski, who has a keen interest in genealogy. She solved the case within two weeks of reading the Times' story.
The stone pays homage to Thomas Moore, who died Aug. 11, 1885 at age 30; Harriet Corning, who died Aug. 9, 1886 at age 4; William Moore, who died Sept. 1, 1897 at age 25; and another William Moore, who died April 15, 1898 at 11 months.
Bujalski says it took her about 40 hours over two weeks to pull all the pieces together, using birth and death records, census data and user-submitted family tree information on Ancestry.com.
However, the biggest break — discovering that Thomas and the elder William were brothers from New Jersey — came within the first day.
Figuring out the children's relationship proved difficult because of missing or incomplete information on various records. So Bujalski began the task of building a Moore family tree about 160 names long.
She was finally able to determine that the infant William was the child of another Moore brother. And Harriet was the younger sister of yet another brother's wife.
Bujalski even tracked down the Jersey City cemetery that the stone came from and contacted the superintendent, who snapped a couple of photos and filled in the remaining blanks: To save land, Holy Name Cemetery buries decedents atop one another but allows only one headstone per grave. When Hoff's parents were buried in the shared grave, he put only their two names on a new stone and turned the original stone containing his four ancestors' names into a backyard memorial.
Bujalski reached Hoff's cousin, Diane Ryan of Orlando, on Ancestry.com. Ryan and Hoff both descended from George Moore, the brother of the two adults listed on the 1880s gravestone and the uncle of the young girl.
Ryan's brother, who lives in New Jersey, is interested in displaying the family memento in his yard.
"I can't believe Julie went through all that trouble, but I'm glad she did," said Ryan, 72, adding that she grew up in a "very tight-knit family."
Though she never met her relatives named on the headstone, she feels a connection to them through her grandfather George: "They were loved by people that I loved. So it's just a warm, cozy kind of thing to be able to remember them."
Meanwhile, Bujalski is still working with the historical society to find a company that will ship the headstone to New Jersey at minimal cost or for free.
If transporting the stone up North proves too costly, the historical society says the new family moving into the Union Street residence considers the stone a part of the home's history and will keep it.
But Bujalski, who has managed to trace both her biological and adoptive families' lineage to the 1600s in the four years since her adoptive parents' deaths, is pushing for the Moore family to regain possession of the stone.
"Family history is so important and the preservation of it," she said, "so I'd hate to see shipping costs be the reason why they don't get a piece of their family history back."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.